The Maryland Public Policy Institute
MPPI IN THE NEWS
With more than 4,000 miles of coastline and a large farming community, Maryland is one of the U.S. states most vulnerable to rising sea levels and severe weather associated with climate change, officials say.
Floods, droughts, storms and heat waves all could have a devastating effect on the state’s ecosystem and economy, according to officials.
Enter the Maryland Department of the Environment and the state’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Act Plan, a statewide, multi-agency proposal currently under development that intends to take aim at the problem.
The draft plan is the result of a 2009 law passed by the General Assembly requiring that Maryland reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020.
Reductions are calculated based on a 2006 baseline study, which determined that the state produced 106 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent gases each year. If no steps are taken, that number will increase to 140 million by 2020.
The draft plan contains 65 programs aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions while creating green jobs and growing the economy.
A nearly 1,000-page economic analysis of the programs by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute estimates that the full implementation of the plan could create about 36,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in annual wages.
Bicycle and clean-car initiatives, for example, could spin off dozens of jobs in the retail sector, while the added retail jobs would prompt growth in the health care sector as employees and their households sought general care, according to the analysis.
The proposed initiatives are spread across 11 state agencies, including MDE, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources and the Energy Administration. They include efforts to increase public transportation use, expand recycling and reduce overall energy use. Some of the initiatives already are in place, said Brian Hug, deputy program manager of air quality planning for MDE, at a public meeting on the plan Tuesday in Baltimore.
The Maryland Energy Administration’s EmPOWER Maryland, for example, aimed at helping residents reduce energy consumption in the home, could cut emissions by more than 7 million tons by 2020, Hug said.
Another key element is Maryland’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade agreement among several states in the Northeast to reduce the region’s overall emissions.
Not all of the 65 programs have been developed in full detail, and the department will be accepting public comment on the plan through Aug. 17, Hug said. New ideas and suggestions were encouraged, he said.
Hug estimated that he has received about 300 email comments on the plan so far.
Comments largely have been positive, said George “Tad” Aburn, air director for MDE. Another public meeting will give architects of the analysis a chance to answer questions on the economic impact of the initiatives, Aburn said.
In general, only a narrow range of such programs are likely to be effective, said Thomas Firey, senior fellow with the conservative Maryland Public Policy Institute. Cap-and-trade programs are the most efficient way to reduce emissions, said Firey, adding that it was encouraging that the O’Malley administration was supporting one.
Other common environmental initiatives such as electric vehicles or increased pedestrian and bike transportation, examples of which are included in the draft plan, tend to be a waste of effort, Firey said. Electric vehicles ultimately don’t eliminate emissions, but rather shift them from the tailpipe to the factory where they’re made. And while bike paths often sound like a good idea, they’re not effective in getting people to bicycle to work, he said.
Maryland Sierra Club Chair David O’Leary said that overall his organization was pleased with the state’s draft plan thus far. The ongoing challenge will be to make sure individual programs within the plan stayed focused on the end goal of reducing emissions, not just conforming with the law, he said.
Some of the individual initiatives, such as transportation projects, will require the participation of local jurisdictions, Aburn said.
In 2011, the General Assembly passed a bill classifying waste-to-energy facilities, which incinerate trash, as a source of renewable energy, O’Leary said. “The intent of that law was to get clean energy,” he said. “But from a greenhouse-gas perspective, it’s as bad or worse than coal.”
One of the most important steps that could help the state meet its reduction goals died in this year’s regular General Assembly session, said Tommy Landers, campaign director for the nonprofit advocacy group Environment Maryland.
“We need to pass an offshore wind bill ASAP, so that we can actually start to tap into the tremendous potential of clean, carbon-free energy that’s right next to our shores,” Landers said.